Progress reports released by the European Commission last month show improvements in the monitoring of LBGT rights in countries looking to join the European Union.

Each year the European Commission monitors the achievements and progress of each of the EU candidate (Croatia, Macedonia, Turkey) and potential candidate countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia), and Kosovo in fulfilling the obligations of the partnership agreements between the country and the EU.

The Commission published the 2007 progress reports in November.

LGBT rights organisation, ILGA-Europe, has praised the EU’s increased focus on LGBT human rights, especially in the Turkish and Serbian reports.

A spokesperson for ILGA-Europe said: “ILGA-Europe appreciates the way in which the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are raised in the European Commission’s 2007 progress reports on Turkey and Serbia.

“It is especially positive that the Commission explicitly raises the human rights violations encountered by transsexuals and transvestites in Turkey.

“There is also in general a clearly positive development in the progress reports as the human rights of LGBT people are explicitly mentioned in a larger number of the eight reports than last year.”

However, they added that not all countries are being effectively monitored.

“ILGA-Europe regrets that the Commission’s 2007 progress report on Macedonia does not include explicit references to the situation of LGBT people despite information provided by the civil society to the Commission. The report on Croatia only includes one explicit reference to LGBT people in spite of documentation provided by ILGA-Europe and its partners.

“Additionally, there are no explicit references to the situation of LGBT people in the progress report on Montenegro and only limited references in the reports about Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo.

“ILGA-Europe acknowledges a lack of documented information concerning these countries and areas but encourages the Commission to introduce a unified code of assessing the accession countries in the progress reports with regard to explicit references to the situation of LGBT people.

“There are few explicit references to the human rights of transgender people in most of the reports.”

The progress reports include several general references to the human rights of minorities and vulnerable groups and to anti-discrimination legislation among others. ILGA-Europe believes that these references implicitly include LGBT people. However, as the accession countries’ governments are not always willing to understand sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression as forbidden grounds of discrimination or as issues included in the accession partnership agreements, they say that it is very important to include explicit references to LGBT people in the reports.

According to the organisation, there is a significant positive development in the progress reports compared with last year as the human rights of LGBT people are explicitly mentioned in almost all of the reports.

The inclusion of LGBT rights in most of the progress reports is to a very large part a result of active advocacy work, documentation of human rights violations and good cooperation between the LGBT organisations and the European Commission.

The reports state that in Turkey, “a closure case against an association which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is ongoing”, while “transsexuals and transvestites are, on occasion, subjected to physical harassment. There is a need for the police to properly investigate such case.” It also says that Turkey has made no progress in ensuring cultural diversity and promoting respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with European standards, and that the legal framework on anti-discrimination is incomplete and does not provide for protection against discrimination on grounds of age or sexual orientation.

In Serbia, the report says that “in practice, discrimination is widespread, affecting in particular the Roma community, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and persons of different sexual orientation. There have been incidents and attacks against organisations active in the promotion of peace, the fight against impunity or those defending the right to a different sexual orientation with insufficient follow-up by the law enforcement authorities. “

In Albania, cases of arbitrary arrest and mistreatment of homosexuals by the police still occur, while in Bosnia discrimination based on sexual orientation is common. A number of homophobic incidents were recorded in Croatia and is Kosovo, “overall, some progress was achieved, but minorities and other vulnerable groups face restrictions in exercising their right to freedom of assembly and association across Kosovo. There is a need to promote more actively the rights of groups such as homosexuals to fight prejudice and verbal and physical violence.”

The Montenegro report found that “preparation of anti-discrimination legislation reflecting the two EU directives in this field [anti-discrimination] needs to be stepped up” and in Macedonia “further efforts are required to fight against all forms of discrimination. A comprehensive law on anti-discrimination should allow for more effective mechanisms to identify, pursue and penalise all forms of discrimination by state and non-state bodies against individuals or groups.”

The Commission’s progress reports are the most important tools at hand for the EU in influencing the human rights situation in the candidate countries and potential candidate countries.

The time before actual membership agreements is crucial as a “window of opportunity” to put pressure on the governments in these countries as the reports are part of the official assessment of the candidate countries.

The gradually wider and more self-evident inclusion of LGBT human rights in the Commission’s monitoring system and in the progress reports should mean that LGBT rights are recognised within the European Union and that it is expected and demanded of the future members that they comply to the European values.

In the case of Turkey, in the context of the progress report a new partnership agreement was signed that includes an explicit reference that Turkey is obliged to “guarantee in law and in practice the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all individuals, without discrimination and irrespective of language, political opinion, sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”.

The explicit reference to sexual orientation in the partnership agreement is a very binding commitment and a strong signal of positive development in the status of the human rights of LGBT people within the EU accession process.

All of the progress reports can be found online here.